by Serge Joncour.
was first published in 2020.
Translated from the French by
Louise Rogers Lalaurie
US release date 8/22/2022
Literary fiction/Historical fiction
Serge Joncour has the knack of writing at the crossroads between humans and nature – beautifully illustrated by the multi-layered title of his latest book translated into English: Human Nature.
I actually read Nature humaine when it came out in French two years ago, but I devoured it without taking time to take notes, and didn’t write a review.
I was thrilled then to receive a review copy in English, giving me the opportunity to read it again and at a deeper level, in an excellent and flowing translation.
In Wild Dog, Joncour looks at how the environment can change our life. In the other book I read by him, Lean on Me, he considers the impact of urban life on human nature.
This time, his field of interest is the years 1976 to 1999, with major events in France and the world, and what choice farmers can make to survive it all.
The author chose two critical dates to begin and end his novel: the massive drought of Summer 1976 in France and the catastrophic storms in December 1999, first around Paris, then in Southern France.
Two symbolic dates, to highlight the environmental and social upheaval France went through during these twenty-five years.
The story is told from the point of view of Alexandre, the 15 year old son (when the book opens) of farmers in the Lot region (Southwest). The only son, he makes the choice to keep the farm going.
But it’s not without tension: from his parents and grand-parents, with their own ways of farming, and from his contemporary peers.
With the appeal of modernity (very present in the life of his three sisters), with globalization, corporate greed (development of mega supermarkets in France for instance), highways threatening to cut through his property, the mad cow disease looming over his cattle, what choice does he need to make in order to survive as a farmer?
Should he follow his neighbor old Crayssac, who is against all progress, like the telephone, or should he just go along and expand his farm?
And further away, clouds are even darker: the Chernobyl catastrophe is the perfect reminder that nuclear energy is not without danger. Hence violent demonstrations in France at the prospect of building a nuclear power plant in Central France.
Alexandre’s world is even more complicated as he meets Constanze, from Eastern Germany, and her environmental activists friends.
In a bit over 330 pages, Joncour manages to pack it all.
Once again, he paints an excellent portrait of France, mostly rural France here, within the first throes of globalization. I grew up in rural France in those same years, and the book seemed very authentic to me.
The novelist comes up with characters and dialogs that are really life-like. He does a great job at character development especially with Alexandre, from a young teen wanting to be part of a group at all cost, to an adult with pent up anger at seeing his world vanish.
And obviously, the author offers great descriptions of nature, all the more dramatic, as you wonder with the characters how long you will be able to enjoy it as is.
The solution Alexandre has in mind right before the December 1999 storms strike may be a shock for some readers, but seeing how nature has suffered even more at our human hands since the year 2000, Joncour’s suggestion of a major reset might be the only way for our planet to survive.
VERDICT: Another excellent analysis by Joncour of the human relationship with the environment. What choice do we need to make, for rural life and agriculture to go on? How is it going to impact us?
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Any other good recent novel on the evolution of rural life?
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this book free of charge for review.
I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.